The Bruins under-17 team wasn't very hospitable as they battled their way into the four-team championship finals in the 46-team non-qualifying division of the Cherry Creek Classic Baseball Tournament.
The 46 teams were divided into 11 pools of four or five teams each for round-robin qualifying competition.
Cherry Creek went 3-0 to take top honors in their pool and to advance to the 14-team championship bracket that included the pool champions plus three wild card teams.
They won two championship bracket games, defeating the Caged Rats 2-1 and besting Denver International 6-4 before losing the Grand Junctions in the semifinals. It was Cherry Creek's first loss in 14 games this summer.
“Working with these kids is one of the most amazing experiences you can have,” Bruins coach Jeff Mielnicki said going into the June 7 pool play finals. “You get to watch kids grow and mature. You see them have positive days and you also see them have negative days and get to watch them overcome adversity and bounce back.”
He said the team looks good, maybe even better than the Cherry Creek team that won the 2012 Don Mattingly Connie Mack World Series.
Mielnicki said his team will play 55 to 60 games this summer. They will play in a league locally, and will make road trips to tournaments such as the ones in Iowa and Oklahoma City. As defending champs, in August they will return to the Mattingly Connie Mack Tournament.
“We preach defense and pitching,” the coach said. “We focused on those two aspects of our game to stay tied, and then we managed to scratch a run in the 10th inning to beat the Twin Blue team, 2-1. If we keep that focus, we'll win a lot of games this summer.”
The Classic used high school baseball rules, with the exception that players used wooden bats rather than aluminum bats.
“You get more pop and drive the same pitch farther with an aluminum bat than you do with a wooden bat,” the coach said. “But the switch to wooden bats teaches players to keep the head down and look to hit the ball with the sweet spot on the bat to really drive it to the outfield. I think using wooden bats has helped some of my players become better hitters.”
Jack Gillit, a team veteran, sees action as the right fielder or at first base or pitching.
“To me, summer means a lot of baseball. It means getting out on the field every day with my teammates and friends and I love it,” the 17-year-old said. “Baseball is by far my favorite sport and being on this team is great.”
He said his favorite position is in right field. He said it is where he feels the most comfortable and where he can use his speed, which is a plus covering the big outfields.
“My goal for the summer is to do my best to help our team win the league and play well to help us repeat at the nationals,” he said.
Teammate Blake Goldsberry was on the Cherry Creek junior varsity team last year, and said playing in this summer league is like taking a step up to the high school varsity level competition.
“It is a pretty big step and you have to keep working hard to play well at this level,” he said. “The game is a lot faster than at the junior varsity level, plus all the players are better. I think the higher level of competition pushes me to be a better player.”
Goldsberry plays shortstop, third base and pitcher. He said he likes to be on the field every day because baseball is his favorite sport.
He said the coaches work the players hard but they also help the players improve their baseball skills.
“I am a lot better baseball player right now than I was at this time last year,” he said. “The coaches have worked my offense and my defense. I think my offense has improved the most because the coaches have helped me be more patient at the plate, and they encouraged me to get into the weight room quite a bit so I am stronger and I can hit the ball a lot harder this summer.”